The D.C. Housing Authority is making it official: If you’re hoping to apply for public housing, you’re out of luck.
Bread for the City reports that DCHA will close its waiting list for public housing indefinitely by the end of the year. Practically speaking, the move doesn’t actually change much. The waiting list for the city’s 8,000 public housing units and 12,000 subsidized housing vouchers is already 64,000 names long. It can take more than a decade for a person on the list to receive a voucher or apartment. And preference is given to people exiting homelessness, so nonhomeless people looking for assistance often don’t budge on the list as new homeless people move to the top.
DCHA argues, not unreasonably, that the waiting list is an exercise in futility and a drain on the city’s budget. Bread for the City counters that the list should stay open as a demonstration of the need for more public housing.
The problem is that the city’s leaders appear uncommitted to a significant expansion of public housing. An affordable housing advocate recently told me that “the Gray administration doesn’t believe it should fund longterm affordable housing” and has no plans for new public housing. Instead, his “way to tackle the lack of affordable housing is to increase income,” treating the problem as one of poverty rather than housing stock.
Ward 8 councilmember Marion Barry has a similar philosophy. “It’s all because people don’t have any income, or expendable income,” he told me last week. He argues that public housing and vouchers simply can’t meet demand, so it’s better to focus on homeownership, the “lynchpin of the American dream.”
“My solution,” he says, “is deep government subsidies to help [people own homes]. Deep government subsidies.”
When I suggested that it would be inordinately expensive to subsidize homeownership for the 60,000-plus people on the public housing and voucher waitlist, he disputed the figure, claiming it was only about 25,000.
Maybe, after a few years of a closed list, it will be.